Reading the Air: vegetable patch party

IMG_0937The autumn is approaching. Suddenly the night air becomes icy, but the days are sultry hot. The hatake or allotment/vegetable garden needed constant watering during the hot days when the air was a hot slab, but then the autumn rains came and soaked the land. Now, the sun remains hot, but there is a chilly breeze from time to time.

We go to help Papa-san among the rice paddies. He has called his women workers forth! The summer crops are almost over, but the leaves can be used to make okazu, side dishes. His friends with nearby mune or strips of land, feudal style, are impressed. They come to see, bringing the best of their produce as welcome gifts. We have come prepared to work, but Papa-san and his friends are here to play and socialize because they are retired.

We wait for our orders, but Papa-san first gets out his folding chairs and sets up a smoking room in the shade. Everything is arranged so that they can play and tinker with plants and growing products. They compete to see who can grow the most variety of vegetables, and get the biggest size. They sit with their thin legs crossed and social smoke, while the stream flows quickly past and the bright green frogs lap around their muddy boots.IMG_1651

The women workers’ prime function is to get drinks organized and line up the ice boxes neatly. Eventually, when the first round of smoking is finished, the jobs are allocated. The men dig, construct supporting frames and train the plants; while the women harvest leaves to make a range of delicious pickles with, and tidy, all except one. There is a foreign woman in the team, who is entrusted to use the rotivator because she has had experience in her native Europe. The Japanese men can’t believe their eyes when Papa-san starts up the petrol-driven machine and hands it over to a woman!

‘Taller, stronger, younger!’ He sums it up and sits down, crosses his legs, and lights up another cigarette.

The air is pure, fresh, and the prospect of armfuls of firm Chinese cabbages, bulbous yellow-skinned onions, and buckets of purple broccoli is worth tolerating the male chauvinism for. After all, it is playtime for the salary-men who have worked all their lives with inhuman long hours and little holiday.

rice paddy

 

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